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Notes: Liz making strides

Notes: Liz making strides

JUPITER, Fla. -- Invariably, the first thing you notice is the fastball. Radhames Liz has turned heads with the velocity and movement on his best pitch for years, but now he's drawing raves for other parts of his game. Liz, who's competing for a back-end rotation slot or a relief job with the Orioles, seems to have finally figured things out.

"His mechanics are much better," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "His windup is better. His delivery is shorter. He's such a long-armed-type guy that he has to be more compact. He's worked on that. We noticed it when he came into Spring Training. ... He's throwing more strikes with his breaking pitch, and he didn't do that when we had him last year."

Liz was nearly unhittable for Double-A Bowie last season, when he racked up an 11-4 record with a 3.22 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 137 innings. His command evaporated in his brief big league trial, though, and he walked 23 batters and gave up 25 hits in 24 2/3 innings of work. Now, the Orioles are debating whether he needs more seasoning.

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"His fastball's stuff you can put with any pitcher," said bullpen coach Alan Dunn. "Obviously, he's gifted, and getting better command with his secondary stuff is an emphasis we're trying to put on his game. He's making great strides right now. It's just a process he's working to get to, but I see a lot of good things that are happening for him."

Dunn has compared Liz to the Cubs' Carlos Marmol, another high-velocity pitcher whose organization is split on how to use him. Both Trembley and Dunn said Liz may have a future as a late-inning reliever, but they also said that the Orioles will give him every chance to start before they make any hard-and-fast decisions.

"I definitely want him to pitch, whether it be here or Triple-A [Norfolk]," said Trembley. "The fifth starter spot is open for us, and depending on what we do, there's an opportunity for a long guy -- and he's a multiple-inning guy. ... I think there's some thought that perhaps down the road he could go either way. I don't think he's locked in to start for the rest of his career."

"The thing that's important is getting the guys an opportunity to pitch when they get to the Major Leagues and adjusting to that environment," added Dunn. "Then, I think you can decide where they're best going to fit -- for them as well as for the club. I think guys can definitely develop in that role and just getting an opportunity to get in the game."

Liz maintains he doesn't care which role he works in, as long as he's getting to pitch. He also said he's feeling more comfortable with his changeup and that his mechanics have improved considerably.

"I feel good. I was working on them in the offseason in winter ball, and I think I'm doing much better than last year," he said.

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"It's not a big change. I know what I was doing wrong. I was taking it little by little. In the last month in the big leagues, I was [flying] open too much. I was working with that. I'm doing it the way I want now."

Pitching switch: Brian Burres will make his regularly scheduled rotation turn, but he won't do it for the Orioles. Baltimore will send Burres and Matt Albers to pitch in a Minor League game next week in order to keep them on turn and to allow the big league coaches to evaluate someone else in a starting role.

"With the day off on the 17th, they'd be off too long," Trembley said before Sunday's game against Florida. "I'm not sure if it's a Double-A or a Triple-A game, but they're going to pitch that game."

Trembley said he's not sure who will start in their place, and he said the coaching staff may name the Opening Day starter as soon as Wednesday. Jeremy Guthrie and Adam Loewen are believed to be the favorites for that honor.

"If he's going by performance, I'm not going to be it," Loewen said after recording eight outs Sunday. "If he's going on guts, I think I could do it. I'd love to be the Opening Day starter. I'm not scared of it. I'll embrace it if it happens. I'm sure that me, Daniel [Cabrera], Jeremy or [Steve Trachsel] could all be it."

Fresh legs: Jay Payton, who's been bothered by bronchitis for much of the past week, made his second start of the spring Sunday. Payton went 1-for-2 with a hard lineout to second base and pronounced himself essentially fit.

"I've hit a lot the last three days," he said. "I saw the ball good, had decent balance at the plate, and that's really what you want right now. You don't worry about results too much. I hit one ball hard and another ball hard enough."

Payton, who's had just four at-bats this spring and hadn't started since March 2, said he's just about ready.

"About four more and I think I'll be ready to go," he said. "Spring Training's overrated. Once you get your body in shape and see some pitches, you can stand in. I've been hitting off that machine in the tunnel -- fastballs and curveballs. ... You don't need a ton of at-bats. It's just more getting your body in shape and getting ready for the season."

Quotable "Both of them have that type of power arm, and the approach as far as Radhames goes after hitters, it's very aggressive and power-type stuff. Those are the kinds of things that jump out at me when you see both of them throw -- their tempo and the way they attack the hitters." -- Dunn, on Liz and Marmol

Up next: The Orioles will play host to the Dodgers on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET, and Steve Trachsel is scheduled to start against Chan Ho Park. George Sherrill and Chad Bradford are also expected to pitch for Baltimore.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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